One of the groups I am a part of worked together to make a list for DR Congo PAPs to ask their agencies/organizations/on-ground staff/lawyers. I thought I would share it.
Questions for Prospective Adoptive Parents (PAPs) to ask agencies, care centers and lawyers
“How long has the child been in foster/orphanage care?"
Favorable answer for abandoned child: At least 6 months
Favorable answer for relinquished child: Varies and depends on situation
"Red flag" answer for abandoned child: A very short time, not enough time to have made a thorough attempt to locate birth family or find a domestic placement.
"Red flag answer for relinquished child: The child is not currently in care, they are still with extended family. Once a family commits to the child, we will move the child into care.
"What attempts have been made to locate any living relatives?"
Favorable answer for abandoned child: Radio and newspaper ads (copies of which are available) were run soon after the child was found (in addition to a police report). And yes, this is possible in DRC.
"Red flag" answer: There is nothing (no records of newspaper ads, radio ads, etc) to demonstrate a sincere attempt to locate relatives. It is expected that the PAP will pay for the ads, and nothing is done until the PAP is in the picture.
"How are you working towards family preservation as well as international adoption?"
Favorable answer: Sponsorship programs, supporting birth families. Working actively towards reunifications as a first alternative for abandoned/relinquished children.
"Red flag" answer: International adoption is our preferred option. It takes a long time to find birth families and hard work to reunify the children with them.
"If money were not an issue, would someone in the family be able to care for the child?"
Favorable answer: Even with sponsorship/financial support, the family cannot or is unwilling to care for the child.
"Red flag" answer: Yes, they want to care for the child but don't have the financial resources to do so (or don't have the financial resources to provide what we, as Americans, consider a comfortable lifestyle).
“Can you show all the steps and paperwork involved in determining that the child is truly an orphan?”
Favorable answer: For abandoned child: ads (newspaper and/or radio), police investigation. Allowing sufficient time for birth family to locate and reclaim child.
For relinquished child: Care order (parental rights relinquished) completed before PAP enters the picture.
"Red flag" answer in either case: One or more of the above steps has not been completed.
"Does this child meet the USCIS definition of an orphan?"
Favorable answer: Legally, it is the adoptive parents' responsibility to ensure that the child meets the USCIS definition of an orphan. Still, the adoption agency, orphanage and/or attorney should be taking steps to make sure every child they refer for adoption fits this definition and understand who can be adopted under US law. Here is the USCIS definition: http://1.usa.gov/ApBTyh In most cases, children should have either been abandoned or have experienced the death of one or both parents.
"Red flag" answer: The adoption agency/attorney/orphanage seem unaware of the criteria for a child to be considered a orphan under US law. Even worse, those responsible for the child are willing to manipulate paperwork to make the child appear to be an orphan.
“What is the process for determining which children are eligible for adoption and who makes that decision...orphanage worker? agency? What is the criteria?”
Favorable answer: If there are not any living relatives who are able to care for the child and, if abandoned, all searches have turned up empty, an attempt was made to place the child with a local family. If no one was willing/able to foster or adopt the child from within DRC, the child was considered eligible for international adoption. If with an agency, the country director has verified that this is the case and that an effort has been made to locate any living relatives PRIOR to considering the child adoptable. If independent, the DRC attorney/investigator has verified the accuracy of the story before the child is considered adoptable.
"Red flag" answer: A potential adoptive parent identifies a child that they are interested in, and then a determination is made about adaptability; the investigation is started after the referral is already made.
"Tell me about your in-country adoption program? Have there been any attempts to place this child domestically?"
Favorable answer: We try to place children with suitable adoptive families in DRC before making them available for international adoption. There are Congolese families willing to adopt, especially young, healthy children. There is a huge informal network of foster homes, usually of extended family members, throughout Congo.
"Red flag" answer: The orphanage claims that Congolese are not willing or able to adopt.
"Can you give us a fee schedule, and are there any extra fees or additional costs that I should be aware of?"
Favorable answer: Here are a list of our fees. The fees should be itemized and should make sense.
"Red flag" answer: Attorney/agency will not firmly commit to amount upfront (or has a history of being unreliable) or the fees change during the process without a clear reason. Fees classified as a "foreign program fee" or "humanitarian assistance" need to be explained fully. After the adoption the agency refuses to itemize at least 90% of the money spent (and it should be collaborated that those are industry standard and consistent to other adoptions in DRC). Red flags--refusing to say where the money was used, saying that it is impossible to get receipts in DRC, saying "this is Africa", that's how it is. Saying that it is for humanitarian reasons and not showing proof of accountability, transparency, and follow-up.
"Do you require families to make a donation to the orphanage?"
Favorable answer: No (in most cases). It may be appropriate for parents to pay for documented expenses incurred by the home during the adoption process. Some adoption agencies may ask families to pay fees that support humanitarian programs in the country or around the world. If this is the case, you need to ask if any donations are made to the orphanage in exchange for each child placed for adoption. It is best if the humanitarian programs are not dependent on children being placed for adoption.
"Red flag" answer: Yes. When orphanages rely on support from adoptive families or adoption agencies, they become financially dependent on continuing to place children for international adoption. Which then motivates them to produce children for adoption to continue the support.
"When do I pay my attorney fees?"
Favorable answer: Typically, families pay a deposit (between $500 and half of the attorney fees) when the case is filed in court and the balance after judgment is granted and when the lawyer gives the family the papers they need for the embassy including the passport, judgment, etc.
"Red flag" answer: All, or almost all, of the attorney fees must be paid prior to court/embassy.
"Are you familiar with the embassy process?"
Favorable answer: Yes, the process is known and documents that need to be taken to the visa interview will be provided
"Red flag" answer: No, this is not part of the attorney's work or no, they are unfamiliar with the requirements and regulations of the embassy
"Have any children from your agency, orphanage or whom you represented in court been denied an orphan visa from the US (Canadian, etc) Embassy? If so, how was this resolved?"
Favorable answer: No. If yes, there is a clear and reasonable explanation.
"Red flag" answer: Yes, and there is not a convincing explanation.
"Do you allow 3rd party investigations of referrals?"
Favorable answer: Yes.
"Red flag" answer: Not at all. In fact, many adoption agencies have in their contracts wording that prohibits adoptive families from using a third party investigator. Remember, most agency contracts serve to protect the adoption agency from lawsuits in the United States and absolve the agency from any responsibility for their behavior or the behavior of their representatives outside of the United States.
"Who is on the ground in DRC? What are their credentials? For agencies, how often does someone from the US visit DRC and how much time to they spend?"
Favorable answer: The agency has staff working closely with orphanages or organizations in DRC. The U.S. representatives visit regularly and have close relationships with the staff OR someone is on the ground in-country full time. These are certified social workers who are familiar with international adoption and USCIS rules and regulations.
"Red flag" answer: There is no one working on the ground in DRC or there is someone without qualifying experience. Representatives visit periodically or have only visited DRC on a few locations. All information is obtained second-hand from others who are in country. Turnover rate is high or staff does not possess qualifications pertaining to adoption (ie- they are not social workers, welfare officers, attorneys, etc).
"Are you asked to sign privacy clauses that prevent you from speaking about your experiences with an agency/organization?"
Favorable answer: No, we are allowed to talk publicly about our experience and our adoption. All our questions are answered promptly and we are encouraged to be transparent and open about the process with other PAPs.
"Red flag" answer: Yes, we had to sign a lot of privacy agreements. We have heard of other people speaking out from our agencies and getting harassed or told they will be sued if they keep talking.
"How much do we pay for DGM exit letters?"
Favorable answer: $200 or less, this is standard in country fee for DGM exit letters.
"Red flag" answer: $200 or more (or even much more concerning, over $500). This is a bribe.
"How much information will we receive about our adopted child while they are in DRC?"
Favorable answer: You will receive updates about their situation, their medical condition, their measurements, and their foster care/orphanage situation. You will also learn the basics about their culture, what language they speak and their daily routines.
"Red flag" answer: You will receive their name and picture at time of referral with an initial medical report. They may say you will receive updates and you never do. When asked, they say it is a chaotic country and it is impossible to get measurements, know much about their situation, know their medical data, know their daily lives. If this is the case, you should seriously consider what kind of on-ground staff they have; there is no reason that they shouldn't be able to get this information for you.
What other questions should be added?
Addendum on 2/3/12:
Two more questions I thought of that are important--
"If I gave the orphanage director $2000 do you have any way to verify the money was used to help orphans and any way to keep account of the money and trace how it was spent?"
Favorable answer: Yes
"Red Flag answer: No, and see this post.
"Is your agency under investigation in another country or by your accrediting state?"
Favorable answer: No
"Red Flag" answer: Yes
And a reader submitted the following question:
Will we be able to meet with the birth family (or neighbor, or police who found the child) and have an independent translator and be encouraged to keep in touch with them?
Favorable answer: Yes, and they also give you concrete ways as to how you will be able to do this (email updates, letters, photos).
"Red Flag" answer: No, we don't encourage open adoptions internationally. Please see this post.
The title of this post was changed to reflect the content of the post, that these questions only relate to international adoption from DRC (which is clear from the questions).